Europe

Court ruling: Russian LGBT group is ‘foreign agent’

Cover of report on anti-LGBT discrimination in Russia, published by Coming Out.

Cover of report on anti-LGBT discrimination in Russia, published by Coming Out.

A court in St. Petersburg, Russia, yesterday ruled that the Russian LGBT rights group Coming Out is a “foreign agent,” a category that limits its ability to communicate with Russian citizens and subjects it to extra government scrutiny. Coming Out issued the following statement immediately after the ruling:

Today, July 21, 2014, Vasileostrovsky District Court of St. Petersburg found “Coming Out” LGBT organization to be a “foreign agent” – i.e. an organization engaged in political activities on behalf of foreign countries. The trial lasted close to four hours.

None of the defense’s arguments were taken into account. Forestalling prosecution responses, Judge Naidyonova ventured to explain that “Coming Out” is violating rights of “persons with traditional sexual orientation” and that our brochure on recognizing discrimination and protecting rights is propaganda material:

“Someone reads this brochure, and is impressed, and might start to share these thoughts with other people, create a coalition and start activities.”

At the same time, the Ministry of Justice maintained that the “kind of information” (about homosexuality) needs to have “appropriate labeling” (“foreign agent”), while the prosecution insisted that, in Russia, no one is persecuted for expressing opinions and that the “foreign agents” label is neutral.

English version of the logo of the Russian organization Coming Out

English version of the logo of the Russian organization Coming Out

The label “foreign agent” on all the public materials of the organization would be a sign for the wider society that the idea of protecting the rights of LGBT people is something “foreign” and therefore unnecessary and even harmful. An organization registered as a “foreign agent” would also be subject to extra governmental audits, and further measures that would limit its capabilities to work.

“Coming Out” will appeal the court’s decision, but there is no guarantee that the organization will not be registered by the Ministry of Justice in the nearest future, as it happened today with five major human rights organizations [including] “Memorial”, “Agora”, and “YURIKS” (Jurists for Constitutional Rights and Freedoms).

Today’s decision marks an end of the 16-month saga during which “Coming Out” invested considerable time, effort, and resources to explain to the courts, mass media, and the general public that defending universal human rights of Russian citizens is in the interests of those citizens, and of Russia.

We are hoping that, regardless of the final outcome, this message was able to reach the hearts and minds of many people.

On July 2, Coming Out stated:

Harassment of “Coming Out” under the “foreign agents” law has been dragging on for 15 months, since the first inspections in March 2013. The prosecution, having lost the administrative suit last summer, launched the new civil suit in the winter of 2013. Since the very first hearing of last year, it has not presented any new evidence that “Coming Out” is engaged in “political activity” using foreign money. The basis for the “foreign agents” claim is still the “Coming Out”’s brochure on discrimination of LGBT, and a protest rally against adoption of the “propaganda law” (which, incidentally, “Coming Out” did not organize).

“The arduous attempts to label us “foreign agents” are in line with the Russian Federation’s promotion of traditional values, domestically and abroad, of which homophobia seems to be an important one,” says Coming Out’s activist, Polina Andrianova. “Our goal is equal rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. We want St. Petersburg’s citizens to understand and respect each other. We will not work under this label.”

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